Vince McMahon: Al Davis or George Steinbrenner?

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After reading Brian Lockhart's great article in Connecticut Post last week about Vince McMahon, I was happy to see that Vince was finally retiring from appearing on-camera:

During the interview McMahon said he was preparing to put an end to his performances in the ring.  "We need to move on, you know?" McMahon said. "It's important that we develop new characters and my character seems to eat up a lot of time on the show. We need to have these fresh young faces."  McMahon has not appeared on "Raw" since he was carried out of Harbor Yard on a stretcher last month.  "It was Vince's intention to write himself out, and there are no plans for him to return to the ring," WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said by e-mail.

It has yet to be seen if Vince will be able to stay behind the camera but his intended retirement from in-ring performances should go down as one of the first signals that his time running the WWE may be coming to an end.  Vince is 64 years old but with countless of years of constant traveling (and everything that goes along with it) and numerous in ring bumps under his belt, his body may in fact be older than that.  While he definitely still has the ability to run his company from their headquarters in Connecticut for many years to come, Vince has to decide and decide soon which route he wants to take with his twilight years: George Steinbrenner or Al Davis. Read more after the jump...

The similarities between the three men are quite striking.  All of them took over their respective organizations when they were at low points and were the reason, if not sole reason, why their particular franchises rose to the top of their sport/industry. 

Al Davis took over as the coach of the Raiders in 1963 (later on became the owner), he took a team that went 3-25 in the two previous seasons and turned them into a 10-4 in his first as head coach.  When he finally became the part owner in 1966, the Raiders were well on their way to becoming a force throughout the 70's and 80's.  George Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in 1973 after the team failed to win a Pennant, nevermind a World Series, in almost a decade.  Within four years of taking over the team, the Yankees won two Pennants and a World Series.  McMahon, on the other hand, bought his family company for his father in 1982 and against his father's wishes, took the company from a regional promotion to what it is today; the Mecca of Pro-Wrestling. 

Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, McMahon, Davis and Steinbrenner took their organizations to new unparalleled heights.  Davis won two Super Bowls, Steinbrenner won multiple World Series and made the Yankees into a billion dollar industry and McMahon ushered in the era of Wrestlemania and eventually what might end up being his greatest success, the Attitude era.  Then the 2000's hit and all three men hit the figurative "wall". 

After reaching the Super Bowl in 2002, the Raider organization sharply took a nosedive.  Since their last Super Bowl run, the Raiders have not had one winning season and may have drafted the number one bust in NFL history with JaMarcus Russell.  According to Forbes, who releases a ranking of every NFL team's worth on an annual basis, ranks the Raiders dead last out of 32 teams in terms of franchise worth and operating income (negative 5.7 million) in 2009.  Needless to say, the Raiders have seen better days.  Most experts attribute these recent failures to Al Davis.  Davis is one of three current NFL owners that serve as his team's General Manager (Jerry Jones and Mike Brown bring the other two) and at 81 years old, his eye for talent seems to have passed him by. From a 2009 piece from footballinsiders.net:

In my final thoughts the Raiders organization has been known lately as the black hole where players and get lost in the shuffle and then re appear after they sign with another team. It seems if this team wants to compete and play again Al Davis needs to step down and let somebody else control the organization. I don't think he will do this for the fact of he is a proud guy and still stuck in the 1970′s where he was a winner. The style of play back then is different and he will not adapt to what is happening in the NFL today. This is one of the main reasons why his teams have been losing. I wish the Raiders could win, but they will not until this happens.

Clearly, over the past 10 years, Davis has gone from NFL great (he still is) to crazy old kook in the public's eye due to his unwillingness to give up control of the team he built and evolve with the rest of the NFL.  This is going cause his legacy to be remembered in two parts, pre-00's success and post-00's terrible decisions, instead of just being remembered as a man that helped turned the NFL into the biggest sport in America. 

On the other hand, George Steinbrenner was able to become a crazy old kook while still protecting his legacy as the greatest owner in the history of sports (hurts to say as a Red Sox fan).  When Steinbrenner bought the Yankee's in 1973, little did he know that he was going to change sports in America.  Steinbrenner is the reason why teams overpaid for athletes in the pursuit of winning.  Steinbrenner is the reason why sports teams can have become major cash cows (YES network anyone).  Steinbrenner is...  This could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  After the Yankees won the World Series in 2000, the team went on a cold steak (a cold streak according to them) and failed to win another ring in almost a decade.  Most people in the media believed it was because Steinbrenner was making most of the baseball decisions which lead to many, many bad acquisitions during that time spanned (Kevin Brown to name one).  A lot of people believed that Steinbrenner was turning into the Al Davis of football but then the unthinkable happened.  In 2006, Steinbrenner relinquished control over his team to his sons, Hank and Hal, and moved down to Tampa.  His "retirement" was purely about winning.  Steinbrenner knew that due to his age and declining health, he was going to have to put people in charge of the team that can handle the daily grind of Major League Baseball if he wanted his beloved Yankees to return to the throne (which they did last season).  Finally, when Steinbrenner died last month, he was celebrated for being the greatest owner ever because of his commitment to winning and his blunders from the early 2000's were overlooked.  If he kept total control of the team until the day he died, he would have been remembered for his pre-2000's success and as someone who hung on a little too long during the post-2000's.  Instead, his legacy is always going to be about winning no matter what and not about him and his ego (maybe a little bit) unlike Davis.

This brings us to Vince McMahon.  Over the next decade, McMahon has to decide who he wants to be, Al Davis or George Steinbrenner.  McMahon has probably already seen the pinnacle of his career with the Attitude Era.  During that time span, McMahon was able to crush and buy his competition (WCW), turn the WWE into more than just a pro-wrestling promotion by extending the brand his built into a multitude of industries like the film and literary and took the company public.  But since then, the company has seemed to hit a rut.  While still extremely profitable, the quality of the programming has seen better days which, has been reflective in the ratings for their weekly televisions shows and PPV buys for their big events which is nowhere near the success during the Attitude Era.  You can blame this on the lack of talent, change in demographic, the economy or the ebbs and flows of the industry but in the end, it all falls on McMahon.

 Like Davis's and Steinbrenner's legacy, McMahon's legacy is already set as the greatest promoter in the history of pro-wrestling.  What still isn't established is how McMahon wants to go out.  Does he want to stay in total control of the WWE until the day he dies like Davis and the Raiders?  Or does he want to give up control of the company that is his lifework to someone younger and more in touch with the newer generation of fans and wrestlers like Steinbrenner did with the Yankees?  Over the next decade, we are probably going to find out which category McMahon falls into.  Fortunately or unfortunately, there are already rumors that McMahon is already planning his return in front of the camera which should signal that McMahon is not willing to give up any control just yet.  I will say this, we only need one Al Davis, but could use a bunch of George Steinbrenners. 

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